ARP Research (Working Draft)


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Enhancing Community and Collaborative Learning – Current Knowledge

The focus of the ARP is to help middle school students in my classes create more of a sense of community among themselves around their learning. The point is to enhance legitimate peripheral participation and diminish the perceived role of the teacher as the focal point. Subsidiary goals are to jointly track and manage student projects interactively and to improve one-on-one communication with students.

Middle school students, as adolescents, have various needs, which Scales (1991), as quoted in NMSA Research Summary #5, elaborated as:

  1. positive social interaction with adults and peers
  2. structure and clear limits physical activity
  3. creative expression
  4. competence and achievement
  5. meaningful participation in families, school
  6. communities, opportunities for self-definition

The elements of my ARP will tap into the positive social interaction with adults and peers and meaningful participation in schools. The means to this end is through technology where students will be working and collaborating with other students online as well as face-to-face, with the online interactions being both synchronous and asynchronous.  Searching ERIC and Wilson Full Text yielded little in resources that were on target for this goal. Most references dealt with higher education when electronic communities were discussed (e.g., Kirk, 2000), , or they dealt with students on the Internet or media use in general (e.g., Roberts, 1991, Berson, 2000). McCampbell's (2000) article addressed to middle and high school principals was interesting as it indicated just how far behind many of our school leaders are in understanding current information and communications technology

Wang et. al. (2000) describe an Internet-based project with students who were upper-middle to high school age (13-17) where they were guided by mentors in a project over the Internet. It seems the youth, divided into groups of five, did all of their work with each other through a website, with a mentor issuing challenges to the group. The metaphor used for the students' involvement in the team was of an "expedition," and the authors refer to the general concept as an iExpedition. However, as an independent project, it was not related to any school work the students were doing and the students were volunteers selected because of their access to technology at home. This is definitely not a typical middle school setting.

Although somewhat off-topic, Kinser et. al. (2000) bring up interesting points about using Internet to collect information and some of the problems they had working with participants who were fully immersed in the Internet culture. Their paper gave me pause as, even though I understand the technology, I may run into problems because I may not understand how my students understand the technology.

Much of the work for this project, although based in technology, will have to address the students' developmental and social needs to help draw them into a community. The National Middle School Association (  provides information on this aspect with their research summaries shedding some light on the issue.

However, at my school our students already use technology for a community. Computers are readily available to our 330 middle school students, with 65 computers in three labs,16 computers in the third floor hallway, and two to eight student computers in most classrooms. Students are free to use computers in the lab or hall during unstructured time, lunch, or before or after school. In this environment, my observations of students over the past year has been illuminating. I realize that our students have a whole on-line community and most teachers are unaware of it. Most students use electronic chat routinely, with MSN messenger being the tool of choice, and most have free email accounts. (This brings up an interesting question with respect to COPPA, the Childs Online Privacy Protection Act, in the United States. Most of the students are under 13, yet they seem to have their own e-mail accounts. In essence, almost all lie about their age.) A few have their own web logs that they keep up with and communicate through. However, these are much more difficult to find out about than e-mail or chat.

The advantage to this level of knowledge in students is that they are already comfortable with the technology. However, there are also certain things they need to be shown. Since they have developed their technology skills during legitimate peripheral participation with their peers, they have developed their own vocabulary and ways of communicating with each other that are not appropriate in more formal circumstances. Although they switch ways of expressing themselves quite naturally in face-to-face meeting, talking to faculty in different ways than they address other students, they may have trouble on the Internet.

Last year Bridgette Fincher and I ran a multi-age project with our classes (4th and 6th grade) in which we used a discussion group. We quickly realized that we needed to show students how to write a subject line and how to write a message.

This year, I'm involved in a joint project with Amy Murphy in which we have discussion groups. (See her news posting in the ed664 news group.) I tried to take some of my learnings from the previous effort and prepare our classes before we started so that we would avoid some of the previous problems. Amy spoke with her classes about developing a professional voice and I spoke with my classes about being engaged in professional discourse. We focused on the difference between writing to their friends and writing to communicate with a colleague. In particular, we emphasized correct spelling, punctuation, and capitalization as all of these go by the wayside in email messages and chat. ("u r 1 2" and "y r u coming" would be considered to acceptable sentences in chat.)

In spite of the preparation some students, in an attempt to be "cool", irritated their partners with their language and mannerisms. We had not adequately addressed the fact in an online forum the receivers only know you by your words, unlike email and chat where you either know the person or it's a one-time chat where you don't care what they think.

Any part of helping the students develop an out-of-class community will have to help them overcome some of these issues and help them distinguish between "work" and "play", although "play" will be an important part of developing community. As a matter of learning to operate in society, they will also need to learn how to vary their language based on who they are communicating with.

One other factor that is shedding more light on the effort to build community is that some teachers have started using discussion boards to have their students collaborate outside of class. (This practice was introduced by Glenn Hoskins, a Cadre 3 graduate.) Those who have been using them for a while are pleased with the results, but I will need to address the issue in my ARP of how to keep from overloading students. Whatever we use should not add extra time to a student's burden, but should instead replace it.

Berson, M., (2000). The computer can't see you blush; Kappa Delta Pi Record v 36 no4, p. 158-62

Kinser, K., Mueller, J. A., Brownell, J.E., (2000)  Studying Student Culture via the Internet. ASHE Annual Meeting Paper. Paper presented at the Annual Meeting of the Association for the Study of Higher Education (ASHE) (Sacramento, CA, November 16-19, 2000). (ED446687)

Kirk, R. (2000). A study of the use of a private chat room to increase reflective thinking in pre-service teachers; College Student Journal v 34 no1 p. 115-22

McCampbell, W (2000). Toys or tools? Online bulletin boards and chat rooms; Principal Leadership (Middle School Ed) v 1 no3 Nov 2000. p. 73-4

Roberts, D.F. (1999). Kids & Media @ the New Millennium: A Kaiser Family Foundation Report [with] Appendices. A Comprehensive National Analysis of Children's Media Use. Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation, Menlo Park, CA. (ED445368)

Scales, P.C. (1991). A Portrait of Young Adolescents in the 1990s: Implications for promoting healthy growth and development. Minneapolis, MN: Search Institute/Center for Early Adolescence. Quoted in NMSA Research Summary #5: Young Adolescents' Developmental Needs

NMSA Research Summary #19: What impact does the use of technology have on middle level education, specifically student achievement?

Wang, M; Laffey,J; Wangemann, P; Harris,C; Tupper, T; (2000). How Do Youth and Mentors Experience Project-Based Learning in the Internet-Based Shared Environment for Expeditions (iExpeditions). Paper presented at the Annual Meeting of the American Education Research Association (AERA) (New Orleans, LA, April 24-28, 2000). (ED442457)

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